During the 1980s when I was working on the Bowden project in Adelaide The Developed Image, the South Australian Photographic Workshop and the South Australian Workshop (SAW) came into existence. There were number of art photographers gathered around each. The Developed Image was the first photographic gallery in Adelaide, the South Australian Photographic Workshop was a collective of artists practicing in the field of photography who were associated with The Developed Image gallery; whilst the South Australian Workshop (SAW) was a collectively run artist studio space.
This early history of art photography in Adelaide has been ignored in the national timelines of photography in Australia, even though this was the period when the graduates of the South Australian School of Art were developing their pr0jects, forming groups, working on projects and having exhibitions. I was on the periphery of these groups, working in isolation and only going to the various exhibitions at The Developed Image. I wasn’t really aware of the overall photographic work that was being done in Adelaide during this period, nor did I have any sense of the grant funded projects that these art photographers were then working on. I had no connection to the independent publishers in Adelaide, the little art magazines such as Words and Visions, or any sense of a regional style in South Australian still photography–if there was one.
Even though photography had developed an active presence in the art institutions my sense of this period in Adelaide there was an absence of any major photographic publications, art orientated photographers were working in relative isolation and their work was largely invisible to one another, there was a lack of critical writing on South Australian photography, and there was little to no information about photography in Adelaide prior to the 198os. There was little sense of establishing a tradition of photography.
Adelaide was much quieter and more low key than Melbourne in the late 70s and early 80s. There was no institutions such as as Joyce Evans’ Church Street Gallery–an ambitious full-scale commercial gallery bookshop that exhibited Australian work, vintage exhibitions and overseas work–which existed between 1975- 1982; or the Ewing and George Paton Galleries at the Melbourne University Student Union. I wasn’t sure to what extent the Art Gallery of South Australia supported the work of the local art photographers after Alison Carroll was appointed Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs in 1977, or to what extent the state gallery encouraged the acquisition of contemporary Australian artists and photographers.
My sense of this period in Adelaide was that there was an absence of any major photographic publications; that art orientated photographers were working in relative isolation and their work was largely invisible to one another; there was a lack of critical writing on South Australian photography; and there was little to no information about art photography in Adelaide prior to the 197os. It was like the exuberant emergence of something new in a cultural vacuum –eg; the emergence of art photography in the 1970s that had little connection to both the history of the European modernist tradition in Russia and Germany between 1920 and 1940–and the broader art movement. Art photography, then was experienced as a print-based object with a frame around it on a gallery wall.
Looking back I recall that when I was in Melbourne in the 1970s after studying at the Photographic Studies College I’d reacted against the American West Coast ‘fine-print’ tradition that was being promoted by The Photographers Gallery in Melbourne. Nor did I relate to the use of photography as an intimate expression of individual concern as exemplified in the work of Carol Jerrems, Ruth Maddison, Sue Ford and Ponch Hawkes; or their experimentation in narrative, hand-colouring and sequential images. Nor did I connect with Robert Rooney’s idea of the camera as a “dumb recorder” of the most ready-at-hand patterns of daily life.
Realism and documentary photography was seen as dated in the 1980s. I do recall reading Working Papers On Photography (WPOP), which was produced by ex-students at Prahran Art School between 1978-1983. It was the most overtly photographic publication in Australia at the time, endeavoured to provide critical discussion about photography, develop the idea of photography critique and explore the ideology of the image. I remember they put on a photography conference in Melbourne in 1980 with Allan Sekula as guest speaker. In 1981 there was Photodiscourse: Critical Thought and Practice in Photography, edited by Kurt Bremerton published through the Sydney College of the Arts.I struggled to understand these texts and to link their ideas to my photography.
I was also so isolated that I wasn’t even aware of the monthly talks about photography held by the South Australian Photographic Workshop photographers at the Experimental Art Foundation (EAF) on the last Sunday of each month.